FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
The institution of emperor in Japan
Posted:Mar 6, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Rajaram Panda
 
There are kings and queens elsewhere in the world and they are called royals but not an Emperor. This makes Japan’s Imperial system unique, writes Rajaram Panda
 
Japan is a special country in several ways. For centuries, it remained isolated and disconnected with the outside world. But once it opened itself up to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854 by the use of force by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States Navy, Japan has never looked back. In little over two and half centuries since then, Japan’s history has traversed through tumultuous journey, leading to the perilous course of war, militarism, expansionist foreign policy, colonialism till its final capitulation in 1945 following the announcement of surrender by the Showa Emperor Hirohito.
 
During the next seven decades, Japan has proudly leapfrogged from a nation in ruins and ravages of war into a modern and developed country to emerge as the world’s second largest economy until it was overtaken by China in 2011. This is in short Japan’s amazing story.
 
But what is more amazing is that in the midst of this transformation to modernism, the nation has kept a beautiful blend with its traditional values and culture. The advent of modernism has not been allowed to overwhelm the aestheticism and serenity of Japan’s traditional culture manifested by such as ekebana, matsuri, manga, film, bonsai, painting, tea ceremony and many more, which are truly authentic Japanese. There is beauty in all these. These have shaped the mind-set and thought process of the Japanese people. Amidst all these the institution of the Emperor stands tall, which is revered by all Japanese, barring some negligible extremist elements with deviant ideological indoctrinations.
 
Japan’s Emperor is believed to be the descendent of Amaraterusu, the Sun God which retains a sense of divinity in the eyes of the Japanese people through thousands of years of its being. Though the role of the Emperor in the affairs of the State in the historical period dating back to centuries remains in obscurity, historical narratives are flush with roles of shoguns and daimyos, the various warlords fighting for power and so on, until the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the subsequent dramatic transformation of Japan as a nation.
 
What is the Meiji Restoration and what does it mean in the context of Japan’s history? In 1868, the Tokugawa shogun (great general), who ruled Japan in the feudal period, lost his power and the emperor was restored to the supreme position. The emperor took the name Meiji (enlightened one) as his reign name and this event was known as the Meiji Restoration.
 
After the death of Emperor Komei in January, 1867 his son, Prince Mutsuhito, then only 15 years old, ascended the throne as Emperor Meiji. Powerful clans such as Satsuma, Choshu and others toppled the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. The last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned and handed power over to the young emperor. But in May 1868 some two thousand adherents of the old Tokugawa shogunate tried an up-rise but were defeated in a bloody battle at the site of today’s Ueno Park in Tokyo. In November 1868 the young emperor moved his official residence from Kyoto — where his ancestor had been kept for centuries in a golden cage — to Tokyo, the new name for the old shogun’s capital Edo. The institution of the Japanese emperor had lost control over Japan some 800 years ago. This path-breaking event is called in Japan’s modern history as Meiji Restoration.     
 
In 1868, Japan was primarily an agricultural country with a weak military and little technological development. The country was controlled by hundreds of semi-independent feudal lords. The Western powers — Europe and the United States — had forced Japan to sign treaties that limited its control over its own foreign trade and required that crimes concerning foreigners in Japan be tried not in Japanese but in Western courts. When the Meiji period ended, with the death of the emperor in 1912, Japan hada highly centralized, bureaucratic government, a constitution establishing an elected parliament, a well-developed transport and communication system, a highly educated population free of feudal class restrictions, an established and rapidly growing industrial sector based on the latest technology, anda powerful army and navy.
 
The Meiji era came to an end with the death of the emperor in 1912 (1852-1912). It was followed by the Taisho period coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Yoshihito (1879-1926), posthumously known as Taisho, dating from July 30, 1912, to December 25, 1926. Emperor Taisho was a sickly man, which prompted the shift in political power from the old oligarchic group of elder statesmen (genro) to the Imperial Diet of Japan and the democratic parties.
 
Thus, the era is considered the time of the liberal movement known as the “Taish democracy” in Japan; it is usually distinguished from the preceding chaotic Meiji period and the following militarism — driven by first part of the Meiji period, during which Japan fought and won two big wars with China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-05), heralding hope for an Asian renaissance. With the death of Emperor Taisho started the Showa era when Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne. This is one of the longest periods of an emperor’s reign in Japan’s known history (64 years); it lasted till 1989 when Emperor Hirohito died on January 7, 1989, at the age of 89. Simply put, the Showa period is a term used to identify the years between 1926 and 1989 under the reign of Emperor Hirohito. In accordance with Japanese customs, Hirohito was posthumously renamed the 124th Emperor Showa on January 31, 1989.
 
The Showa period is followed by the current Heisei (peace) period, which started on January 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Hirohito died, and his son Emperor Akihito acceded to the throne as the 125th Emperor in Japan’s history. The current Emperor’s reign is in its 29th year. Aged 83 and having health issues, the current emperor expressed his desire in July 2016 to abdicate as he is finding it difficult to discharge his national duties. This has created a buzz in Japan’s political establishment — how to deal with a new situation if the Emperor abdicates as according to the Imperial Household Laws, there is no provision for abdication. This issue shall be dealt in a separate article. 
 
Except in Japan, nowhere in the world, there is an Emperor system; there are Kings elsewhere and they are called ‘Royals’ but not Emperor and that makes Japan’s Imperial system unique. Believed to be the direct descendent of Sun God (a mythical concept), there was an element of divinity attached to the Emperor. For the Japanese people, the Emperor is seen as next to God.
 
The element of divinity that the emperor personified was surrendered when Emperor Hirohito renounced it after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Since Japan fought the War in the name of the Emperor, many soldiers committed seppuku in front of the imperial palace with a sense of guilt that they could not win the war for the emperor.
 
The Pioneer, March 5, 2017
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be visiting India between 7th and 10th of April and plethoras of agreements are likely to be signed then. Among the various agreements, the two countries will be signing the defence cooperation agreement which  has been getting the most attention. 
 
read-more
The Congress needs to come up with a more aspirational narrative than that of the BJP. The party doesn’t lack talent, but its leadership clearly lacks hunger and enthusiasm required for winning elections, writes Tridivesh Singh Maini for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
 India should not hesitate in using both overt and covert means to bring its policies to successful fruition. Indian policy makers must be guided by the dictum that there is no permanent friend or enemy but only permanent interests, writes Adarsh Singh for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre invites you to a lecture in the Changing Asia Series by by Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India on Health And Development: India Must Bridge The Disconnect Chair: C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Soci...
 
read-more
spotlight image 'Covert military actions or surgical strikes against terror launch pads in Pakistan have limited utility that won't change the mind of the Pakistan Army or the ISI  which sponsor cross-border terrorism
 
read-more
In Dutch politics, alliances are imperative to construct an administration. The post-election government formation is, therefore, a slightly time-consuming process. In due course, a coalition led by the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, will surface.  
 
read-more
Japan is a special country in several ways. For centuries, it remained isolated and disconnected with the outside world. But once it opened itself up to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854 by the use of force by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States Navy, Japan has never looked back. Japan is a spe
 
read-more
Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and earlier under the late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdallah bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia has rolled out a series of women-friendly initiatives.  Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the
 
read-more
spotlight image No First Use as a nuclear deterrent without additional caveats should work well enough
 
read-more
Column-image

India remians the inflexible bête-noir for Pakistan, yet there are few books by Indian authors that have sought to interpret the prodigal neighbour in a holistic, informed and empathetic manner.

 
Column-image

The line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893 has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. More than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never ...

 
Column-image

What went wrong for the West in Afghanistan? Why couldn't a global coalition led by the world's preeminent military and economic power defeat "a bunch of farmers in plastic sandals on dirt bikes" in a conflict that outlasted b...

 
Column-image

What will be Pakistan's fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern whi...

 
Column-image

Some South African generals, allied with the British forces, sought segregation from the enlisted men, all blacks, after being taken prisoners of war. The surprised German commander told them firmly that they would have to share the same quarte...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive